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I’m pleased to be hosting Café San Diego today, and I’d like to thank voiceofsandiego.org for the opportunity. I’m here to talk about the Sunrise Powerlink, which is a critical element of SDG&E’s balanced energy plan we’ve developed to reliably meet our region’s future power needs.

In case you haven’t heard of the Sunrise Powerlink, it’s a proposed 150-mile power line between San Diego and the Imperial Valley that will secure future energy reliability for SDG&E customers and expand access to clean, renewable power supplies, which in turn helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

San Diego’s only major (500,000 volts) power line connecting our region to the state grid was built nearly 25 years ago. Since then, San Diego has grown by 60 percent. And demand for energy has more than doubled despite the fact that California has the most aggressive energy efficiency programs in the nation. By 2010, SDG&E customers will use more energy than the existing system is capable of delivering reliably. We’ve simply outgrown our energy grid.

That’s not surprising considering there are 47 high-voltage lines (500,000 volts) in California, yet only one delivers power to San Diego.

The U.S. Department of Energy echoed this concern in a recent study when it found that San Diego is within one of the two weakest and most vulnerable energy corridors in the country.

No wonder key experts like the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), which operates most of California’s power grid, has called on the California Public Utilities Commission to approve the Sunrise Powerlink and get it in-service by 2010.

I’m usually asked why SDG&E doesn’t just build more power plants to keep the lights on for customers. That’s part of the plan. Last year, we added the first new local power plant in decades (the Palomar Energy Center in Escondido) and another should be on line in 2009. We’re also adding smaller “peaker” power plants that can be turned on during times of peak energy demand.

But times have changed in California. The old utility model of relying solely on fossil fuels for power generation is over. California has made the decision to “go green.” New state mandates require utilities like SDG&E to derive 20 percent of energy supplies from clean, renewable resources by 2010. And the recent greenhouse gas emission reduction legislation signed by the Governor could require SDG&E to go as high as 33 percent renewables by 2020. “Going green” is the right choice, but now state regulators need to give utilities the tools — mainly new transmission lines that connect to green power supplies — to help make it happen.

The California Energy Commission (CEC), which also supports the Sunrise Powerlink, agrees. The CEC has called the lack of transmission lines the “most critical barrier” to California’s green future.

The Imperial Valley and eastern San Diego County are home to vast supplies of untapped renewable energy including wind, solar and geothermal. However, right now there are limited power lines that provide access to this clean energy. Without the Sunrise Powerlink, many of these green resources can’t be developed and SDG&E won’t meet the state’s clean energy mandates.

—MIKE NIGGLI

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